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Analgesics contribute to hearing loss, study finds

March 2, 2010 | 10:11 am

Perhaps it wasn't those years of listening to rock 'n' roll that damaged my hearing after all. New research suggests that regular use of aspirin, acetaminophen and other analgesics can substantially increase the risk of hearing loss, especially in men younger than 50. Researchers report in the American Journal of Medicine that use of acetaminophen more than twice a week by such men doubles the risk of hearing loss, use of ibuprofen and related non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increases the risk by nearly two-thirds, and regular use of aspirin increases it by about a third.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder in the United States,afflicting more than 36 million people. It is prevalent in the elderly, but about a third of those ages 40 to 49 already suffer some hearing loss. Common risk factors include loud noises, alcohol, hypertension, diabetes and the use of the diuretic furosemide.Studies in animals and anecdotal reports in humans indicate high doses of the analgesics can interfere with hearing, but there have been few studies looking at regular use and none studying acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol), according to the authors.Tylenol

Dr. Sharon G. Curhan of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and her colleagues studied 26,917 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Their ages ranged from 40 to 75 at enrollment in 1986. Every two years, the men filled out questionnaires about their use of various drugs, as well as other lifestyle factors. They were also asked if hearing loss had been professionally documented.  During 369,079 person-years (a statistical measurement that represents one person at risk of disease for one year) of follow-up, the team identified 3,488 new cases of hearing loss.

Controlling for a variety of other risk factors, the researchers found that among all men who used aspirin at least twice a week, there was a 12% increased risk of hearing loss. Among those who used ibuprofen and related analgesics, there was a 21% increase; for those who used acetaminophen, a 22% risk. But the risk was much higher when they considered only men younger than 50. In that group, there was a 33%  increased risk for aspirin use, a 61% increase for ibuprofen and related NSAIDs, and a 99% increase for acetaminophen.

The researchers cautioned that the study group involved only men and that most of them were Caucasian. It is not clear how the results might extrapolate to women and other racial groups.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Photo: Tylenol capsules. Regular use of acetaminophen (a well-known brand is Tylenol) can double the risk of hearing loss in men under 50. Credit: Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images